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Manchester Fruit Tree Co‑op: Cultivation with co‑operation

Case study

14th December 2023
Co-op development
Dan and Solvi of Manchester Fruit Tree Co-operative

When an enterprising graphic designer decided to turn urban apples into cider, it sowed the seeds for what would become a fruitful co‑operative venture…   

Manchester Fruit Tree Co‑operative propagates, plants, grows and maintains fruit trees. “As access to food becomes an increasingly vital issue, it’s essential that we have strong, resilient fruit trees and orchards in our communities,” said co‑founder Dan Hasler. 

“Fruit trees offer us an abundance of food when we care for them well. We want to support people to ensure that planted trees become loved and cherished for generations to come.”

Originally a graphic designer, Dan traded in his Apple computer for apple trees after founding The Moss Cider Project in 2009. He’d moved into Manchester’s Moss Side and seeing apple trees in back yards, parks and public spaces, he hit on the idea of turning their excess fruit into cider and juice. “We were a limited company but operated as a quasi-co‑op,” he recalled. 

Dan’s urban cider venture was a success but in 2018 he parted ways with his business partner and focused his energy on working for The Orchard Project – a national charity planting and restoring community orchards.

Volunteers pruning with Manchester Fruit Tree Co-op
Manchester Fruit Tree Co-operative tree pruning with volunteers for the Woodbank Community Food Hub

“I fell in love with the tree production, planting and restoring side of it. I learned how to propagate fruit trees and my mind was like, ‘I just want to make and care for thousands and thousands of fruit trees as a career.’”

He also became involved in a project for the The Kindling Trust – a not‑for‑profit working for fairer food and farming systems. “We grafted 9,000 fruit trees, 6,000 for their farm and 3,000 to be given away to communities,” he recalled. 

“It was part of a Defra‑funded agroforestry project, in which rows of fruit trees grow with crops in between them. To quote Steven Briggs, ‘It’s an apple pie in a field!’”

Dan worked alongside Sølvi Naja and together the pair decided to start a co‑op. “We knew of other fruit tree co‑ops in Sheffield and Leeds and had both worked with co‑op specialist Mark Simmonds, who also knows how to graft fruit trees. So the co‑operative spirit just rubbed off on us.” 

To set up their co‑op, Dan and Sølvi applied to Business Support for Co‑ops programme, delivered by Co‑operatives UK in partnership with The Co‑operative Bank, which paid for Mark’s time to provide expert co‑op consultancy. 

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Mark’s support entailed the essential aspects of setting up the business – what we needed to do, what action to take and the business planning side of it. He helped us define our marketing and business plans, all in preparation for the establishment of a successful co‑op.
– Dan Hasler, Manchester Fruit Tree Co‑operative

The programme also gave Dan and Sølvi the opportunity to receive advice from a similar co‑op – Sheffield Fruit Trees. “This was one of the most beneficial aspects of the support,” said Dan. 

“They work off two sites and we saw their set up – and how they’ve managed to make it work for them. It was really helpful to understand how they’ve been funded as a co‑op and what opportunities have arisen.

“Even seeing their spaces, getting a sense of scale and how they’re making it work was invaluable for us. It helped us figure out the direction we wanted to go in.” 

Operational since December 2022, Manchester Fruit Tree Co‑operative currently has a partnership with Stockport Council. “We are helping them look after Stockport’s community orchards,” said Dan.

“We love working with local authorities and public sector organisations like housing providers with fruit trees on their land who may lack the tools and knowledge of how to look after them.” 

Dan and Sølvi are planning to recruit a third member within the next 12 months and are looking for land to set up their own commercial tree nursery, as well as considering different avenues of expansion for future growth. 

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Greater Manchester has 10 borough councils. I’d love to have a co‑op member in every borough, tending to their fruit trees. Both Sølvi and I want to train people – and appeal to the younger generation – to help them get a first step in the environment sector.
– Dan Hasler, Manchester Fruit Tree Co-operative

They’re also collaborating with other fruit tree co‑ops in the north and have a vision for where their collective efforts could lead. 

“Alongside Mark Simmonds, Fruit Works in Leeds and Sheffield Fruit Trees, we’re leading a session at the 2024 Real Farming Conference in Oxford on fruit production in the north.

“It would be amazing to have the whole of the north, coast to coast, covered by people growing local varieties of fruit for their region. That way, it’s not just one business monopolising the trade. 

“That’s the nice thing about the co‑op model. We want to help each other out. There’s enough work out there that we can all thrive, so we’re happy to be networking and promoting all the good things co‑ops do.” 

Find out more

 Manchester Fruit Tree Co-operative – Website | Facebook 

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